Depression is a medical condition that many people are afflicted with, where some don’t even realize they are suffering from it. Several physiological, psychological and environmental factors contribute to the etiology (or causes) of depression. Here, we take a look at how these factors cause this condition.
“I’m depressed!”- How often and how casually we use this phrase to describe our ‘sordid state of affairs’. You should first know that depression is indeed a medical condition, and while we use this term loosely, it may be incorrect to do so. That perpetual feeling of helplessness, despair, loneliness, and general sadness is not normal, and could be a sign that one is suffering from depression. Mild depression can easily transform into a serious condition called clinical depression, which requires medication and therapy. This condition which is believed to be psychological, can have physical manifestations in the form of recurring headaches, for example. It is a condition that may be faced by people belonging to all age groups – from children, to teenagers, to middle-aged adults, and the elderly, due to a combination of various conditions; these conditions may be physical, psychological or environmental.
- Biochemical Imbalance: When there is a chemical imbalance in the body, mainly one that results from the lack of proper function of neurotransmitters, it may lead to depression. It is a completely biological condition. Even hormonal imbalance, such as one occurring at the time of childbirth can lead to depression. This is known as postpartum depression.
- A Symptom of another Physical Problem: Depression can occur as a symptom of other physiological problems, such as the presence of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, menopause, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and hypothyroidism. However, if it is a case of clinical depression, it should not be considered as a symptom of another physical problem and help should be sought immediately.
- Genetic Conditions: In some cases, depression is a condition that is just in the genes, though the study about which genes cause depression is not complete. It is not true that if a family member suffers from depression, you too will definitely suffer from it, but it is still a cause.
- Gender: Research studies have shown that women are more prone to depression than men. This is because it has been found that women are more likely to ponder over things that are not going in their favor, which eventually results in a feeling of helplessness and despair. However, on the physical front, events such as pregnancy, childbirth, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause are triggers for depression.
- Substance Abuse: Several people consume alcohol and drugs in order to eliminate the symptoms of depression they experience. However, what they are unaware of is, that one of the major withdrawal symptoms of such substances is depression. As such, substance abuse further contributes to depression.
- Nutrient Deficiency: In several cases, the deficiency of nutrients such as folic acid and Vitamin B12 leads to the development of depression.
- Medication: The intake of several medicines may lead to, or worsen existing depression in people. Medicines such as sleeping pills, pills to control blood pressure, and birth control pills contribute to this condition. Even medications to control anxiety, sometimes, lead to depression.
- Personality Traits: People who possess certain personality traits such as pessimism, low self-esteem, anxiety or excessive worrying, hypersensitivity, fear of rejection, a sense of isolation from the others, a superiority or inferiority complex, and feelings of inadequacy, are prone to suffering from depression. Some people are very dependent on others to fulfill their emotional needs. This leads them to develop high expectations from those persons. When those persons are unable to live up to those expectations, a natural result is depression due to low self-esteem and lack of respect for oneself.
- Irrational Thought Process: Due to errors in thinking that people develop, such as blaming themselves for their misfortune, and misinterpreting every fact in a way that will further lower their self-esteem, people may be on the path towards depression. These errors in judgment and thinking lead them to believe that their future is going to be as negative as their perceived present, thus resulting in depression.
- Learned Helplessness: People begin to assume that they are unable to control their environment and situation, assume that they are meant to deal with unfortunate events all their life, and adapt their mind to such a train of thought. This train of thought leads them to believe that there is nothing they can do to change their situation, which is why they don’t make any attempt to do so. This leads to pessimism and apathy, and finally to depression.
- Stress: Among the several health problems that are caused due to stress, depression is one of them. Prolonged emotional and physical stress ultimately leads to depression, as one feels helpless in an effort to deal with it.
- Obesity: Though obesity is a physical condition and results in several other physiological problems, its psychological impact can be devastating for some. The mere pressure to look good and to ‘fit in’ can lead to a spiral downward in a person’s self-image and ultimately cause depression. This cause of depression is primarily prevalent in children and teenagers. Depression can also occur in children or teens who are extremely thin or underweight.
- Loss of Loved Ones: The loss of a loved one (particularly at a young age) is a cause of depression. It could be the death of a parent, or a divorce that forces a child to experience such a loss. Sometimes even the loss of a pet may cause people to go into depression. Breakups/Divorces can also be shattering for people. Women face the empty nest syndrome during middle age, when their kids move out and go off to college, leading them to believe that they have nothing to look forward to anymore. The deep emotional attachment with the loved one does not easily allow people to move on.
- Perceived Failure: When people believe that they have failed in any particular area of life, such as in a relationship, in a job, or academic underachievement among students, it may lead to depression. The failure to achieve any particular goal that they had set, causes them anxiety, leading to depression; though in some cases people tend to set high goals, or goals that are unachievable over a short period of time. This begins to hurt the ego and results in a hatred for oneself.
- Social Roles and Expectations: The pressure to live up to a particular image, and sometimes the lack of ability to do so, often results in depression. Particularly among children and teens, the pressure to perform well in school, to be an all-rounder, and be the perfect son/daughter/sibling can cause stress, leading to depression. Depression, particularly in teenage years is common, and may be the result of anything ranging from a breakup or failing to make it into the school sports team.
Depression may be treated with the help of medication, which mainly includes antidepressants, and psychotherapy and counseling. An effort is first made to identify the cause of depression, which is then treated appropriately. The sooner depression is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment will be.
There may be cases in which depression is an offshoot of another physical problem. In such a case, an attempt must be made to treat the problem itself, which will then take care of the condition. However, depression may also be associated with mental illnesses, and only a doctor will be able to diagnose the actual cause of the condition.
Any kind of treatment for depression should be supported with love and the support of loved ones. When a person who is depressed knows that there is someone who will stand by him/her at all times, no matter what the situation, he/she is going to start feeling better immediately. Of course, the right therapy and medication is definitely essential in order to treat extreme depression. However, the magic that is cast by love and support, cannot be matched by any other form of treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for the advice of a medical/mental health expert.